Updated: Jan 23
This short video shows Blush in portions of my training session with her regarding staying with her own bowl. Unfortunately for both of us, this training was done just prior to my journey with clicker training. I was very kind with Blush, as I am in all my training, before clicker and after, but my training choices made Blush lose confidence in herself to the degree shown in the video. That was shameful on my part, but at the time, I knew no other way. I spoke kindly to her throughout. I told her she was not in trouble. She needed something very different from me. I completed the Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Foundation course shortly after this. Not once since then have I had a dog look like this in front of me.
In a nutshell, this is what I did right and wrong to cause the behaviors Blush offers me, and then we'll move to talking about her.
She is trying to steal her partner's dinner. I verbally interrupt her behavior, which is fine, and then I tell her she's good when she does what I want her to do. From a scientific standpoint, what actually happened is that I verbally marked her wrong behavior rather than interrupting her and then marking and reinforcing any small piece of "right" behavior. That would have let her know what I wanted rather than what I didn't want. That is a big difference to an animal. Marking "right" behaviors in training makes a dog stand tall and be happy. Poor Blush.
Most dogs, in most circumstances, will work to avoid conflict. Their first likely choice will be to use distance; they will move away from the threat or whatever is making them uncomfortable. They also use their own bodies to convey their feelings through an extensive array of behaviors. For people, some of these behaviors are easy to recognize for what they mean to the dog, while other behaviors may be too subtle for humans to easily notice. Through education, a better understanding of what this body language means is possible. Becoming good at reading canine body language does not happen overnight, and I expect this to be an area of study for me for the rest of my life.
In living with dogs, it is really helpful to learn to understand the subtle language of dogs so that they don't have to shout to be heard. As an example, if you see a dog's body stiffen or he gives a hard stare, these are the early subtle warning signs that precede a growl or bite.
A happy, confident dog is tall. He carries himself loosely throughout his body. His eyes are soft and wide open; his mouth may be open and relaxed enough that his tongue hangs out to the side. His tail carriage is relaxed. With Maremmas, these behaviors are easy to see. It can be difficult to get a good look at a black dog's eyes in comparison to our white dogs. Breeds with bobbed tails and cropped ears have a more difficult task in making themselves understood. But let's go back to Blush because she gives a spectacular display of stress signals in this video as she tries to diffuse the situation with me.
As you watch the video, watch for these behaviors:
low tail carriage
slow, low tail wag (appeasement, not friendly)
slow, low walking
hiding against the fence (invisible)
seeks the safety of being near the other dogs
tongue flick (lots of times!)
turning head away
curling body away from me
partially closed eyes (dog is hiding)
If you see these behaviors in your life with your dogs, stop what you are doing and give the dog distance as you try to figure out why the dog is concerned. If the dog shows any of these behaviors in a training session, you've just been told (as I was) that what you are asking of the dog doesn't make sense or is something the dog can't give you.
Now, to give you a little added difficulty in understanding this, please keep in mind that the presence of these behaviors needs to be kept in context because happy dogs do some of these things too. To find out more about the context of Blush's behaviors here, please see the related training blog.
I love this book! There is so much great information in it about canine body language. It is a quick and easy read, with lots of photos. Wonderful.